eli james


1:20am, 17 June 2014

I moved to Saigon (or, as it’s officially known: Ho Chi Minh City) a couple of weeks ago. I’m here full time, as a PM for a small Singaporean consulting firm, with a development office in HCMC. My job is to code, build out the team, analyse growth across all our apps, cut business deals, manage finances for the projects I’m overseeing, and grow the company. It isn’t a typical first job. There’s a lot of freedom but also a lot more responsibility.

I’ve been getting a lot of confused looks when I tell people that I’m now in Vietnam. “Oh.” they say, “wait, why?”

My response is usually: “Because Asia”.

Most people will agree with you when you say that Asia is the future, that there are many more opportunities in developing countries, that the centre of economic power is shifting east. But when you ask them to put their money where their mouths are: when asked “why don’t you move to China?”, for instance, they clench up.

I’m taking that as a good sign. That cringe means that some of the tech world’s best and brightest are avoiding a huge area of opportunity.[1] It means I won’t have to compete directly with Silicon Valley engineers and growth hackers.

It also means that I’m betting that, in one or two decades, the opportunities in Silicon Valley will pale in comparison to the opportunities available elsewhere.

(This is not an argument I’m going to make now, because I’m aware of my lack of historical knowledge, but my gut feel is that picking Silicon Valley over Asia is like picking Manchester at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. You’re likely to get a couple decades more of innovation, and the people there are likely to do very well for themselves, but given the span of a human life - you’ll probably be better off attempting to be an industrialist or a robber baron in America, the rising power of the time. Cue: reference to China, or the other developing markets around the world.[2])

Is this going to work? I don’t know. But the playbook here is largely unwritten, and my requirements are not rigidly fixed: so long as I make a meaningful dent in a problem worth solving (and some money in that process), I’m likely to be happy with my set of outcomes.

I’m young, and single, and able to live out of a suitcase. My biggest worry now is that this life of exploration is in all probability going to exclude settling down, at least for another 5-8 years. But there’s a time and place for everything.

Right now, it’s time, I think, for me to do some travelling.


[1] To be fair, they’re rather justified. There’s corruption, government inefficiency, the risk of unrest or violence, tropical diseases, large and conspicuous levels of inequality, foreign languages, strange cultures, and in some cities: rampant pollution. All of them wonderful deterrents, in my view.

[2] The markets that matter in South East Asia, by the way, are Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Phillipines.

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